We saw the transformation this season, the emergence of the tight end position in the Paul Petrino offense. Seemingly out of nowhere junior Trent Cowan went from a rotation wide receiver in 2014 to becoming the No. 4 ranked tight end in the nation for 2015. He burst onto the scene on September 19th in a home victory over Wofford, finishing with 107 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions. His biggest game came at the end of the season at Auburn when he caught 10 passes for 118 yards. Overall on the season he accumulated 624 yards on 48 receptions and caught four touchdowns on the season. He finished the season ranked fourth behind Hunter Henry (Arkansas), Jake Butt (Michigan), and Matt Weiser (Buffalo).
That’s pretty good company for a potent Idaho passing attack on the rise.
Going into his senior season in 2016 Cowan should be ranked at or near the top of the Sun Belt tight end preseason rankings. No other school had a tight end that finished in the Top 25 nationally in 2015; the next returning TE in the conference, Louisiana-Monroe’s Harley Scioneaux, finished with 15 receptions for 197 yards.
Keeping this position productive in the future is the focus for Petrino’s coaching staff, and that’s where Joe Wysocki, a 6-3.5, 234-yard prospect out of southern California powerhouse Los Alamitos, comes in. Wysocki committed to Idaho as part of the 2015 recruiting class and grayshirted the 2015 season, and will be joining the program as a freshman this January.
A decorated 2-year starter standout on a talented team, the Griffins finished his senior season in 2014 with a 9-2 record and were crowned Champions of the Sunset League with a 5-0 conference record. Statistically Wysocki accumulated 36 catches, 435 yards (about 15 yards per catch) and three TDs on the season. His honors included being named to the Long Beach Press-Telegram Dream Team and a First Team All-Sunset League selection.
Wysocki isn’t the only Vandal recruit mined from that deep Los Al team, as he will be joining fellow 2015 recruit, star running back Denzal Brantley, the Co-MVP of the Sunset League who redshirted at Idaho last year (2015).
Recently we caught up with Wysocki to talk with him about spring camp on the horizon, his decision to pick the Idaho program, and his plans for this fall.
IT’S BEEN A YEAR SINCE WYSOCKI was in the throes of the recruiting process, but we wanted to find out how the process went for the 2-year starter. Hosted by Cowan on his official visit and recruited by Coach Shumaker, as is often the case landing the tight end prospect was the result of keeping the lines of communication open throughout the recruiting process.
“My first offer came from the University of San Diego during the spring going into my senior season,” Wysocki told GoVandals.net. “I was really excited because I didn’t think I was going to get any offers at all – I only played football my junior and senior year.
“I talked to a lot of Pac-12 schools, Mid-American schools and Sun Belt teams. The big offer that came for me though was New Mexico right after the season. Me and Denzel Brantley got offered at the same time, and that was my first big Division 1 offer. Then Navy and Air Force came by and offered me. A lot of Division 1AA programs like UC Davis, San Luis Obisbo also talked to me, but I had four FBS offers and then USD.”
So when did Idaho get into the mix?
“Idaho came in during the spring going into my senior year,” Wysocki recalled, “and they said they needed a tight end. I had a conversation with Coach Shumaker and it was mainly a meet-and-great sort of thing. My senior year ended and I was about to commit to New Mexico, but they had problems with scholarships with players there at the time, so they had to pull mine.
“I was thinking about Navy and Air Force, but then Idaho came back and they were still looking for a tight end. I was a lot bigger and a little stronger and they decided to offer me about a week after that conversation, and I was really stoked about that.
“I knew about the program. Idaho is a good school and I saw what Coach Petrino is doing with the team, and I was thinking this is going to really be a good team in the Sun Belt, I think, in the next couple years. And Denzel was already going there, so I was thinking this is perfect, I’ll have a teammate there who I will get to play with and that is awesome.
“I think it’s going to be a really good program and I want to be part of that process. I decided I would just take my official and see how I liked it.”
And as the saying goes, the rest is history. Wysocki made his final decision and the Vandals landed a solid tight end prospect for the future.
SO HOW EXACTLY DID WYSOCKI go from not playing till his junior year to starting for a high school program that won 9 games per year in both his junior and senior seasons? It was one of the big questions on our minds.
“I come from a big football family,” said Joe, whose older brother, Ben Wysocki, is an offensive lineman at UCLA. “I played flag, all of Pop Warner, all the way up and I just got over it for some reason. I actually got into golf. I was playing tournaments, and I was also on the surf team and things like that. But I like to golf because it’s me versus the course. I could really focus on me beating the course by myself. I had always played team sports – basketball, baseball, and always with teams.
“So the change was neat, just me against the course.
“But then my sophomore year I went to the games and it was so weird just sitting in the stands and not playing. So I talked to coach Barnes (Los Al’s legendary coach who retired this February after a remarkable 36 year career leading the Griffins) and he gave me an opportunity to start lifting with the team in the off-season. I had to put on a bunch of weight and catch up with my weightlifting, but I started every game my junior and senior year -- I was really blessed.
“It was a good opportunity and I went for it, and I was really stoked that I did it.”
Is there a redshirt in Wysocki's future this fall?
“Coach Pupunu called me and he told me to get ready to come up and ‘Get into it, let’s do this’, and I was like, ‘Alright, let’s do it!” If I’m not playing, if I’m not in the rotation, I’m thinking make special teams and travel with the team, enjoy this year, and try to learn as much as I can. I think it will be fun.”
IT WAS EXHILARATING LAST FALL watching the Vandal offense move the ball so effectively via the tight end in 2015. Cowan not only made the transition from wide out to "fist-in-the-dirt" tight end, but he flourished. Based on what he saw this past fall, we asked Wysocki about how he sees his skills translating to what Idaho does with its tight ends.
“Coach Pupunu told me that the tight end before Trent was almost leading the FBS, and this year Trent was basically leading the FBS in stats. That got me really excited, and I think Idaho does use their tight ends a lot. There’s a half back a lot, and then a down tight end, which is what Trent was playing a lot. And then they move them out to receiver, which is what I basically did in high school at Los Al. There’s a lot of playing Y, and then going down and blocking, or going out for pass routes, and that is my style of offense.”
“I think I’ll be under Trent’s wing this year. I’m going to try to get in the rotation with him, working in with him, because we’re basically the same guy. We’re both blond haired, blue eyed guys, same size. But I’m going to try to learn a lot from him. I’ll probably be playing a lot of the Y and the tight end spot.”
Beyond receiving, what about the grunt work of the tight end position; the less glamorous but equally critical blocking required from the position?
“That was my strong suit when I was a junior,” Wysocki said. “We didn’t really pass a lot to the tight ends because we had some really good receivers. I think my blocking is good, but as a grayshirt I think that because of the time off of not hitting and doing those certain things, I’ll have to get used to it again. Everyone is bigger and stronger, but I feel pretty comfortable with pass pro, and then with tight end you get to do a lot of lead blocking up to the linebackers and more movement in the field. I think I’ll be fine, I just have to get used to the speed of the game. It’s a lot faster.”
Without a doubt Wysocki’s development at Idaho in the years ahead will be something to watch, and we’ll be keeping tabs starting with spring camp in a couple months.